India to have 100 airports by 2008: Praful Patel

Mumbai: India would have 20 more civilian airports operational by 2008, taking the total number of airports in the country to nearly 100, civil aviation minister Praful Patel told a economic editors conference.  

He said, apart from greenfield projects in Bangalore and Hyderabad, several smaller airports like Durgapur and Asansol are also expected to become operational next year. With the domestic air traffic growing at an unprecedented 40 per cent during the first nine months of 2007, Patel expressed optimism over the growth of cargo traffic as well.

"There will be enough requirement on the part of manufacturers and exporters to transport flowers and other perishable goods and white goods such as telephone sets and desktop computers by air in the future," he said, adding, "There are logistics companies such as FedEx and UPS in the US, which have over 700 aircraft and I don''t see any reason India should be far behind."

"Logistics infrastructure is being developed across the country and we want airlines, both public and private, to have more cargo planes," he added. While public sector Air India has already started a subsidiary dedicated to cargo, Naresh Goyal-owned Jet Airways is planning to launch a separate airline for cargo operations.

He said the country''s aircraft requirements would grow to around 1,000 by the end of the next decade.

"Just three years back, India had only 125 aircraft. In the last three years, the number of aircraft in the country has neared the 400-mark. Aviation activities which were limited to a few metros serving only elite classes have now percolated to smaller cities and the lower-middle class," the minister said.

Domestic airlines carried 31.73 million passengers during January-September 2007, up 36.47 per cent as compared to the corresponding period last year, according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Asked if the domestic aviation sector has matured enough to allow foreign airlines to pick stakes in the domestic carriers, he replied in the negatively.

Patel also met petroleum minister Murli Deora and sought steps to cut the price of aviation turbine fuel (ATF), the major cost component of airlines. "We just conveyed our concern to the petroleum minister over the spiralling jet fuel prices. No decision has, however, been taken so far," Patel said.